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Some narcissists are ostentatiously generous: they donate to charity, lavish gifts on their closest, abundantly provide for their nearest and dearest, and, in general, are open-handed and unstintingly benevolent. It is a form of virtue signalling. How can this be reconciled with the pronounced lack of empathy and with the pernicious self-preoccupation that is so typical of narcissists?
The act of giving enhances the narcissist's sense of omnipotence, his fantastic grandiosity, and the contempt he holds for others. It is easy to feel superior to the supplicating recipients of one's largesse. Narcissistic altruism is about exerting control and maintaining it by fostering dependence in the beneficiaries.
But narcissists give for other reasons as well.
The narcissist flaunts his charitable nature as a bait. He impresses others with his selflessness and kindness and thus lures them into his lair, entraps them, and manipulates and brainwashes them into subservient compliance and obsequious collaboration. People are attracted to the narcissist's larger than life posture – only to discover his true personality traits when it is far too late. "Give a little to take a lot" – is the narcissist's creed.
This does not prevent the narcissist from assuming the role of the exploited victim. Narcissists always complain that life and people are unfair to them and that they invest far more than their "share of the profit". The narcissist feels that he is the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, and that his relationships are asymmetric and imbalanced. "She gets out of our marriage far more than I do" – is a common refrain. Or: "I do all the work around here – and they get all the perks and benefits!"
People-pleasers dread conflicts and wish to avoid them (they are conflict-averse) - hence their need to believe that they are universally liked. Always pleasant, well-mannered, and civil, the conflict-averse people-pleaser is also evasive and vague, hard to pin down, sometimes obsequious and, generally, a spineless “non-entity”. These qualities are self-defeating as they tend to antagonize people rather than please them.
But conflict-aversion is only one of several psychodynamic backgrounds for the behavior known as “people-pleasing”:
1. Some people-pleasers cater to the needs and demands of others as a form of penance, or self-sacrifice;
2. Many people-pleasers are codependents and strive to gratify their nearest and dearest in order to allay their own abandonment anxiety and the ensuing intense – and, at times, life-threatening - dysphoria (“if I am nice to him, he won’t break up with me”, “if I cater to her needs, she won’t leave me”);
3. A few people-pleasers are narcissistic: pleasing people enhances their sense of omnipotence (grandiosity). They seek to control and disempower their “charges” (“she so depends on and looks up to me”). Even their pity is a form of self-aggrandizement (“only I can make her life so much better, she needs me, without me her life would be hell.”). They are misanthropic altruists and compulsive givers.
All people-pleasers use these common coping strategies:
1. Dishonesty (to avoid conflicts and unpleasant situations);
2. Manipulation (to ensure desired outcomes, such as an intimate partner’s continued presence);
3. Fostering dependence: codependent people-pleasers leverage their ostentatious helplessness and manifest weaknesses to elicit the kind of behaviours and solicit the benefits that they angle for, while narcissistic people-pleasers aim to habituate their targets by bribing them with gifts, monopolizing their time, and isolating them socially;
4. Infantilization: displaying childish behaviours to gratify the emotional needs of over-protective, possessive, paranoid, narcissistic, and codependent individuals in the people-pleaser’s milieu;
5. Self-punishment, self-defeat, and self-sacrifice to signal self-annulment in the pursuit of people-pleasing.
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